10/01/2013 11:26 am ET Updated Dec 01, 2013

Checking in Without Checking Out

My kids complain about how much time I spend on my smartphone. But often, I'm checking in with work. I don't want them to feel ignored -- but I do need to be on call if I'm going to keep my job. What to do? 

It's amazing how radically our expectations of one another have changed in the last two to three years. Five years ago, it would have been inconceivable to expect a co-worker or employee to respond to a memo within minutes of sending it. But these days, we have trained ourselves to respond to a message within minutes -- or seconds. Here are my thoughts about balancing home and family with the demands of a busy work life:

• Check in without checking out. While you may need to keep an eye on what's going on at the office, resist the temptation to do more than whatever is absolutely necessary once you've punched out. A quick scroll through emails to make sure nothing urgent needs attention shouldn't take more than a minute or two.

• Mind your manners. Rather than surreptitiously sneaking a peak at your phone, be up-front -- and polite. "Kids, I'm loving our time together. Please excuse me for a moment while I check in with the office. I'll be back in five." Unless there's a disaster, stick to your promise. You'll be more relaxed knowing things haven't fallen apart at work, and your kids will know that a check-in means just that, and that you'll quickly return.

• Budget wisely. If you discover something going on at work that needs immediate attention, explain to your kids that you are truly sorry to interrupt your time together. Let them know how long you'll be occupied, and commit to returning as quickly as possible. Be as efficient as possible, doing only what you absolutely must before returning to your children.

• Don't expect understanding. It is not your children's job to listen to you moaning about all the pressures of your work life, or how anxious you are about a recent email from your boss. While I do think it's important to offload your stress, it is not appropriate to expect your kids to comfort you when it comes to your grown up commitments.

Do expect frustration. Most children feel shortchanged when it comes to a parent's attention; they never feel they get enough. When they have to compete with your job (or your smartphone), they are likely to feel resentful and hurt. Help them offload their feelings without trying to justify or defend your need to interrupt your time together.

"I know it doesn't seem fair."
"I'm thinking you wish I hadn't checked my phone and found out I need to make this call."
"It's frustrating to be having fun with Mommy/ Daddy and then find out I have to leave for a few minutes."

• Be honest. With work following us home via our devices, it's easy to get into a 24/7 relationship with the endless things that need to be done. It's tempting to play catch up when we could be playing good old-fashioned catch with our kids. Before you jump onto your phone to respond to an email or phone call, make sure it can't wait till tomorrow when you're back at your desk.

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting. To learn more, visit her Facebook page or sign up for her free newsletter.

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